1890: What to Bring
|What to Bring
Title text: I always figured you should never bring a gun to a gun fight because then you'll be part of a gun fight.
This comic derives its humor from combining two common but unrelated pieces of advice: "never bring a knife to a gun fight", and "never put water on an oil fire". The corollary to these phrases is that a knife is only useful for a knife fight, and water is only useful for a wood fire (or similar solid and porous fuel). Randall creates a confusion matrix applying each of the solutions (knives, guns, lids, and water) to each of the situations (knife fight, gun fight, wood fire, oil fire) to predict the likely outcomes.
The squares in the table are highlighted in green to answer "Yes" to the question, where the specified object is appropriate or advantageous for the situation, or red to answer "No", usually because the object would not be helpful in resolving the situation. The grid concludes that, not only are both pieces of advice correct (bringing knives to gun fights, and using water on oil fires would both end in likely disaster), but only the prescribed solutions are appropriate for each situation (e.g. any solution other than a lid would be ineffective for an oil fire, and potentially very dangerous). The sole exception to this trend is bringing a gun to a knife fight, which would give you a major tactical advantage over your opponent.
The ultimate point of this comic may be in the title text. There is a phrase in American English, "to bring a knife to a gun fight," which means "to be so naive as to be unprepared." While Randall may be commenting specifically on managing conflict escalation by being adequately prepared for the situation, it is also possible that he is subtly expressing his opinion about the virtues of restraint.
|Should you bring ... to ...
|a knife fight
|a gun fight
|a wood fire
|an oil fire
|If you bring a knife to a knife fight, you will be evenly matched with your opponent (all else equal).
|If you bring a knife to a gun fight, you will be at a perilous disadvantage. (Although, at close range, a knife is considered more lethal than a firearm in certain situations, e.g. a holstered pistol.)
|Attempting to stab a wood fire with a knife will only lead to you being burned.
|Attempting to stab an oil fire will only cause you to get burned and leave metallic scrapes in the pan.
|Bringing a gun to a knife fight will usually leave your opponent at a perilous disadvantage due to the gun's far greater range. (Though if the fight is in close quarters, you will likely be at a disadvantage. You may also be accused of "not playing fair", but only if you leave survivors.)
| Bringing a gun to a gun fight will leave you evenly matched with your opponent.
|Shooting at a wood or an oil fire will not extinguish either one. Depending on the exact caliber of the bullet, you may even end up scattering the wood or oil fueling the flames, leaving you with a worse situation than before. Also, most bullets contain lead, so the heat of the fire may cause the bullet to give off toxic fumes.
|Splashing either a knife-wielder or a gunman with water may blind your opponent briefly, but if you're still in a fight (i.e. you cannot use the opportunity to flee), it won't win you the fight. (However, water can disable some antique guns that use black powder, since the powder will not ignite when wet.)
|Wood fires are best extinguished with a well-aimed splash of water.
|Pouring water on an oil fire is notorious for creating huge fireballs and scattering the oil, making the situation even worse (boilover).
|Attempting to put a lid on the head or weapon of a knife-wielder or gunman will probably not help matters, as it may only serve to agitate them. While it might momentarily confuse your opponent, it probably won't give you much of a running start. (However, a metal lid with the right sort of handle could serve as a makeshift shield.)
|Trying to put out a wood fire with a lid would usually require a lid far too large for you to carry.
|An oil fire is best extinguished by cutting it off from oxygen; stove top oil fires generally occur in cooking pans, which often come with lids suited to making an airtight seal. A fire-resistant blanket or towel also works well for this purpose.
- [Text in the top-left corner of the comic:]
- "Should you bring _____ to ______?"
- [The comic is laid out like a grid, with implements down the left-hand side (A knife / A gun / Water / A lid) and the type of "fight" across the top (A knife fight / A gun fight / A wood fire / An oil fire). The grid illustrates the "match-ups", with a green square denoting a "correct" match-up and a red square denoting a Very Bad Idea.]
- [From the top left corner, going from left to right, top to bottom, with each first item being on its own line in the grid, the squares are as follows:]
- [Green square, two combatants face off against each other with knives, equally matched.]
- A knife to A knife fight
- [Red square, a person with a knife faces off against someone with a gun, and is clearly outmatched.]
- A knife to A gun fight
- [Red square, a person holds a knife in a wood fire while saying "OW OW OW".]
- A knife to A wood fire
- [Red square, the person with the knife scrapes at the oil inside the pan that's on fire while saying "OW OW OW". The scraping accompanied by the text "SCRAPE SCRAPE".]
- A knife to An oil fire
- [Green square, the person with the gun points it at the opponent with the knife, who exclaims, "Dude!"]
- A gun to A knife fight
- [Green square, two combatants point guns at one another, equally matched.]
- A gun to A gun fight
- [Red square, the person with the gun shoots pointlessly three times at the wood fire, which carries on blazing. The shooting is accompanied by the text "BLAM BLAM BLAM".]
- A gun to A wood fire
- [Red square, the person with the gun shoots at the flaming pan, which does nothing to put it out. The shooting is accompanied by the text "BLAM".]
- A gun to An oil fire
- [Red square, the person with the water throws it uselessly in the face of the person holding the knife.]
- Water to A knife fight
- [Red square, the person with the water throws it uselessly in the face of the person holding the gun.]
- Water to A gun fight
- [Green square, the person throws the water on the fire and successfully extinguishes it, which makes a "SPLOOSH" sound.]
- Water to A wood fire
- [Red square, the person is shown reeling back from the oil fire, the water glass going flying, as the oil fire explodes with a "FOOM".]
- Water to An oil fire
- [Red square, the person with the lid comically places it on the head of the person with the knife, who stands there in confusion.]
- A lid to A knife fight
- Red square, the person with the lid ineffectually places it on top of the gun the other person is pointing at them.
- A lid to A gun fight
- Red square, the person with the lid holds it near the wood fire, which does nothing to put out the fire.
- A lid to A wood fire
- [Green square, the person places the lid on top of the oil fire, which suffocates and extinguishes it.]
- A lid to An oil fire
- The original image for this comic was missing one of Cueball's arms in the first panel. The original image is here.
- While the chart states that you should bring a gun to a gun fight, the title text makes the observation that bringing a gun to a gunfight might just raise your status from 'inconsequential bystander' to 'combatant'. So perhaps you shouldn't bring a gun to a gun fight if not bringing one is a way to avoid being considered part of the fight. It probably all depends on why there is a gun fight to begin with, and why you are choosing to go to it, with or without a gun (or knife or water or lid). Or Randall may simply (and wisely) mean that you shouldn't go to a gunfight at all, which is a genuinely valid point, and not a joke. If you're not there, you can't get shot.